Silence.

Listen.  That is the first word St. Benedict instructs his monks and nuns in the Rule he wrote fifteen hundred years ago.  For all of humanity's advances, especially in the last hundred years, human nature has not changed.  Men's hearts are still capable of being troubled by the unsettling burdens of life, or of being silent so as to hear the voice of God.  Thus, St. Benedict’s instruction is just as pertinent to our culture at the start of the Third Christian Millennium as it was when he was alive in the sixth century A.D.

So, we must listen.  But to what . . . and how?  “To the master’s instruction . . . with the ear of [our] heart[s].”  There is a lot to unpack in those few words.  To submit to a master’s instruction, one must admit that he has something to learn. That is, one must have a teachable spirit.  Humility is needed in order to submit one’s will and intellect to eternal truths buried under a cacophony of “Noise–Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile” [C.S. Lewis, “Letter XXII” in The Screwtape Letters]. 

Listen - with the ear of the heart.  St. Benedict combines two disparate organs - one dependent on the other.  We use our ears to listen, but the ear cannot function if the heart's not beating; no heartbeat, no hearing.  So, we then must recognize that we are alive, and by being alive, we are capable of listening to noise, or for the voice of God.

One cannot listen if he is talking, and that is the problem for anyone who is trying to take the faith seriously and live according to it’s life-giving precepts.  It is so easy to “babble as the pagans who think they will be heard by their many words” (Matthew 6:7).  I speak from experience as one who always has something to say - to God, to my brother monks, or to anyone within earshot.  This is why a monastic vocation is such a gift, for monasteries are places that work hard to preserve silence. 

Silence is like a garden that produces the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: (Galatians 5:22-23).  Noise is like weeds in the garden that chokes the life of the Spirit within the soul.  Silence is not a void to be filled. Rather, silence reveals a Presence that is always with us - a Presence that is Eucharistic and only revealed with the eyes of faith, a Presence in whom “we live, and move, and have our being.” (Acts 17:28)

In these dog-days of summer when the Church commemorate the Feast of St. Benedict, may we listen to his instruction and learn to be silent so that the “still soft voice” of Jesus might draw us more closely to Himself.

The Soultion to our Searching

    I was sailing through a sea of green fields. The wind whipped the soft grass creating the appearance of undulating waves. My car was a vessel floating amongst the vastness of the open road. My course was charted in front of me, by the rough, lonely country road. Small water tanks, like mirrors reflecting the bright blue sky above, dotted the countryside. The beauty was overwhelming. Almost instinctively, I had the desire to capture this beauty, to snap a photo to preserve the image. Yet, I have often found that pictures do not do justice to a breathtaking landscape, like the one through which I was traveling. There is something deeper than the physical beauty that can only be experienced in the present. It cannot be stored and revisited days or months later. One must dwell in the moment to soak in its fullness.

Stepping into the basilica, my eyes were instantly drawn upwards. Golden light shown through the elevated windows onto the enormous baldacchino over the main altar. The central nave extended all the way to the Holy Spirit window, far in the distance. The stone colonnade directed my sight onward and upward. I stared in awe at the vastness of this sacred space. Almost paralyzed, I was unsure of how to react to such beauty. Surely, no camera is able to capture the length, width, and depth of such a space, let alone the brilliance of colors illuminating the air. Yet, around me swarmed, likes bees, hundreds of tourists with their selfie sticks waving and their camera lenses clicking. They seemed unaware of the sanctity of the space, treating it as merely another sight to see on their Roman holiday. As I processed through the many altars lining the sides of the central nave, the artwork continued to draw my mind away from my current surroundings and more toward the One whose sacrifice was re-presented each day on these altars. Upon entering the chapel with the Blessed Sacrament, the atmosphere changed. There was a lightness that touched the soul. Only dwelling there in the silence of prayer could the beauty of St. Peter’s Basilica truly be contemplated.

There is something appreciable about our desire to capture beauty. It points toward our inner direction toward the ultimate Beauty. After all, every beautiful thing participates in the beauty of God. However, earthly beauty is fleeting. Many poets lament the loss of beauty with the imagery of the changing seasons or the process of aging. They profess tempus fugit and carpe diem - that time is fleeting; therefore, seize the day.

The best way to fully appreciate beauty is to dwell in it in the moment. Not every moment in our lives will be beautiful. In fact, a majority of them probably are not. But, if we truly appreciate beauty when it does come, we will be sustained in times of desolation in the hope of another consolation. One way to actively encounter beauty is to travel, whether that be internationally, or locally. Simply moving oneself out of their current, perhaps mundane, reality can help one find beauty in other people, nature, art, and architecture. The verdant countryside and the brilliant basilica that I described earlier are just two of the countless examples of how I have experienced beauty through travel.

Although physical beauty is fleeting, there is One that never fails. By encountering the One from whom all beauty flows, we can experience a beauty that the finite world can never offer. Prayer is the way through which we encounter our God. Granted, prayer is often hard and uncomfortable. But, as with travel, God gives us times of consolation in prayer to give us hope in our desolation and remind us of His promise.

Both travel and prayer draw one out of oneself to experience something greater. We are forced to encounter the vastness of the world and our God and reconcile ourselves with them both. We must return to travel and prayer continually to relieve ourselves in the bleak times of life. The fact that beauty can never fully be captured causes us to have to seek it out again and again. And surprisingly, I have found that the more I travel and the more I pray, the easier it is to find beauty in the mundane, and even the ugly. Prayer and travel broaden one’s perspective to see things as they are and to appreciate them nonetheless.

Civil Religion

If you’re celebrating the Fourth of July holiday this week, you may find yourself with your hand over your heart as the national anthem is played. Perhaps a patriotic parade will march through your neighborhood. Maybe you will end the evening relaxing on a picnic blanket, watching a firework show and celebrating America.

Between fireworks, grilling out and patriotic tunes on the radio, you’ll probably find yourself participating in civil religion this week.

“What?” you may ask, “I’m participating in civil religion?”

Yes.

Even though the first amendment demands that congress should make “no law respecting an establishment of religion,” United States citizens, regardless of their religious affiliation, almost universally participate in civil religion.

One cannot study the concept of civil religion without getting to know Robert Bellah, an America sociologist. In his 1967 article, “Civil Religion in America,” Bellah elaborated on a principle originally introduced by French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau, who had written on the concept of civil religion and its importance in establishing a unified national identity.

Bellah writes, “While some have argued that Christianity is the national faith, and others that church and synagogue celebrate only the generalized religion of ‘The American Way of Life,’ few have realized that there actually exists alongside of and rather clearly differentiated from the churches an elaborate and well-institutionalized civil religion in America.”

Civil religion is much more than just a potpourri of politics and religious practices, and it isn’t just extreme patriotism (that would be nationalism). Instead, Bellah describes civil religion as a “shared reverence for sacred symbols drawn from a nation’s history.” Civil religion goes beyond patriotism because it acknowledges the presence of not just a love of a country but also a higher being.

This civil religion can be traced all the way back to the founding of America. George Washington spoke of “that Almighty Being” in his 1789 inaugural address. Lincoln mentions the “providence of God” in his second inaugural address. Kennedy asks God’s “blessing and His help” in his inaugural address in 1961. Countless politicians have ended speeches with the phrase “God bless America,” regardless of which side of the aisle they sit on and where they worship on Sunday morning.

Most recently, Trump invoked God during his own 2017 inaugural address, saying, “The Bible tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity. We must speak our minds, debate our disagreements honestly, but always pursue solidarity.”

American civil religion boasts of prophets (George Washington), martyrs (Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy), sacred temples (the Lincoln memorial, the Washington monument and the Thomas Jefferson memorial), sacred documents (The Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution), and even songs (The Star Spangled Banner, God Bless America, and America the Beautiful).

Without too much trouble, you can find American flags proudly displayed in public spaces and in private homes. Schools take breaks for national holidays like President’s Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Most of grew up reciting a pledge to the star spangled flag.

These historical figures, practices and artifacts inspire a patriotic love of America and an emotional link to the nation’s history.

Civil religion can even be found on our currency – Since 1983, “In God We Trust”, the official motto of the United States, is emblazoned on all US coinage.

But in whose God do we trust? The God of Christianity? Judaism? Islam? Baha’i? Buddhism?   . Our melting pot nation contains a large mix of religious beliefs and backgrounds. American civil religion applies to all citizens of the United States

Therein lies the reality of civil religion – it is not a substitute for traditional religion at all. Instead, it carefully selects aspects of traditional religious practices so that the average American citizen (regardless of his or her personal religious affiliation) sees no conflict between the practice of civil religion and his or her own privately held religious beliefs.

Bellah writes, “What we have, then, from the earliest years of the republic is a collection of beliefs, symbols, and rituals with respect to sacred things and institutionalized in a collectivity. This religion-there seems no other word for it-while not antithetical to and indeed sharing much in common with Christianity, was neither sectarian nor in any specific sense Christian.”

President Dwight Eisenhower is known for his statement: “Our government makes no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith – and I don’t care what it is.”

Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and countless other presidents refer to a higher being in their famous speeches. Yet the deity they refer to is ambiguous and not tied to any specific religion or denomination. Washington does not mention where he worships on Sunday morning. Lincoln does not mention his Baptist upbringing.  Kennedy strategically left out any mention of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the saints, or anything that would associate him with his personally held (although not personally practiced) Catholic beliefs.

Yet, despite its vagueness, American civil religion is not a bad thing overall. It fosters a sense of togetherness for American citizens, reminds us that there is something greater than ourselves, and establishes a sense of order and tradition.  Calling upon a higher figure has value in American history and especially in today’s political turmoil.

It is okay to participate in civil religion this Fourth of July week – but don’t forget that you’re a practicing Catholic. The God we worship as Catholics is unambiguous and truly present on the altar every time the Mass is celebrated. In the Catholic Church, we find a deeper and stronger faith, truth and hope than American civil religion can never offer.

 

Chloe Langr is a very short stay-at-home-wife, whose growth has probably been stunted by the inhumane amounts of coffee she regularly consumes. She recently graduated with a degree in history from Washburn University. When she is not buried in a growing stack of books, she can be found spending time with her husband and Wilson (their rabbit), geeking out over Theology of the Body, or podcasting. A regular contributor to Aleteia and Epic Pew, you can also find more about her work on her blog, Old Fashioned Girl

Of Obituaries and Ascensions

We are a creature, my friends, who intertwines death so tightly with life, that we find ourselves marking the different ages within the marching years of our days by the way particular passings lace about our hearts.

I write that atrocious opening sentence with a bittersweet smirk, hoping that Brian Doyle, the brilliant author and editor whose death occasioned the sentiment, is smiling at it's ridiculousness somewhere in Heaven. I almost had the occasion to meet the man--he was slated to come speak at Mercy College here in Des Moines this last Spring--but the diagnosis of a brain tumor unraveled our plans. I suppose it was the almost-nature of the nearly-happy meeting that has stuck with me, and made writing this little post so difficult. Brian's work is beloved, and rightly so (his poem "Leap" is one of the most memorable works of art regarding the tragedy of 9/11), but at heart, he is a story teller seemingly before anything else, and I am disheartened that I do not have a better story to tell in his honor.

Instead, I am left with my opening, tortuous thought. Nevertheless, though the sentence may be gaudy, the sentiment is true, and I cannot shake the sense that this news of Brian's death has marked a new era in my life. All this, coupled with other recent more personal passings, render me somehow feeling "officially" in the "middle of my life" now, in a manner that 30-something birthdays never seemed to do. "In the midst of life, we are in death" says the old prayer I suppose. But a particular fact--that Brian died two days after the Feast of the Ascension--I think is a key to this new found self-regard of mine. And sitting here after Trinity Sunday, it is this event of Our Lord, which sets off the Crowning Feasts after Easter, that animates my thoughts.

Jesus tells us straight out, "it is better for you that I go. For if I do not go, the Advocate will not come to you." (John 16:7). But I must admit with my very human heart that I hardly believe Him some days. Really Lord? With all that goes wrong, it is best that you go? With all the ways even  your own people go astray and ruin your good name, there is a better idea than you sticking around? With coffins and obituaries fresh in my mind, I ask, you could not have helped if you were here?

And while it is absolutely true that He abides with us in the Eucharist (which countless people have spoken of with power and beauty), and though it is more than evident that the Holy Spirit truly does breathe the fiery life of God into His Bride the Church, I say we have not truly listened to the story of the Ascension if we have not stood baffled by it, like the Apostles looking dumbfounded into the sky. 

When I was much younger, I was enthralled by sermons which side-stepped this question by pointing to "what happened next." That, of course, is the ACTS of the Apostles, the story proving that ours is not a religion of standing around, but a kinetic force on earth, and which Luke's second book demonstrates so well. So we pray the first Novena between the Ascension and Pentecost, so we find new life in the Spirit at Pentecost, and so with the remainder of Ordinary Time we effuse that life which pours forth from the Holy Trinity. No doubt to this day I find myself lost in the change and transformation that comes over the Disciples once their Master has left them, and see the redoubling gust of the Spirit's mighty breathe.

But for the past few weeks, in this newfound middle-age of mine, I have been stuck thinking of the fact that He left them in the first place. Why could He not have stayed with us? Why, to quote from the book of John once more, are we blessed precisely because we have not seen Him, yet still believe? Could I have not been tasked with believing, Lord, with you standing here next to me?

But my friends, this is the inescapable warp and weft of the world in which we live: things pass away. People depart. Circumstances change. And as it says in the book of Hebrews, here we have no lasting city. Jesus left this world because we too must leave it someday. And everyone we love. And everything we know. And everything that we hold dear. 

What kind of Religion would we have that ignored this central, brutal, and yet astonishing fact of our existence, that we are so very much a part of this world, but only for a time? And even more baffling and astounding, He did not teach us this by immediately leaving after He rose from the dead. No, he stuck around, but only for a time! The earth it seems can bear the trodding of Resurrected feet upon it, but only for a span of days! The Saints can inhale and exhale this atmosphere, but only, only for a demarcated amount of minutes! 

We only have each other, but only for so long. We only have breathe enough to retell our stories, but for a time, and then we must pass them on to someone else to tell them. We only have so much we can do here, either with the help of the Saints who went before us, or as Saints ourselves, before the old heavy world sends us off on our refulgent way. Our lives within each others lives are to be lived out as a prelude to these heart-rending, glorious Ascensions. May we keep this task of ours ever in mind, and when the time comes for another's passing, may we find the strength to admix our attendant, understandable sorrow with the expectant, eager awaiting for the Comforter.      

 

This Saying is Hard

Then many of his disciples who were listening said, ‘This saying is hard; who can accept it?’

                                                            -John 6:60

At moments in my life, I’ve struggled to reconcile myself with the teachings of my beloved Catholic faith. These moments usually come right before periods of new growth in my life and sometimes that growth is painful. Sometimes it’s almost excruciating to subjugate my will to the demands of my faith, particularly in regard to suffering and family planning.  Sometimes, like my battle with the Catholic teaching on family planning, I have to grapple with skepticism and ongoing fear and place my life in the hands of the Lord. For example, although I understand the beautiful teachings behind the Theology of the Body and I want to incorporate them into my life, Natural Family Planning pushes the boundaries of my comfort zone because I love to be in control of my own life and I often lay out meticulous plans on how my life should be, or ought to be. Instead of entrusting my future to the God who knows and loves me best, it’s very easy for me to be overwhelmed with fear that God is going to ruin my life If He doesn’t exactly follow the plans I’ve made for myself. It’s far too easy for me to try to edge God out of my life and close myself to any of his possibilities. In addition, I am easily cowed by secular world’s judgmental stance on not using contraception, the view that children are burdensome, and am often blinded by the world’s empty promises of fulfillment through self-reliance and pleasure seeking. Sometimes I feel a little jealous because maintaining the Lord’s laws puts a damper on being “carefree” and “fun.” During my weak moments, I feel like retreating from what God demands of me because the Church’s teachings are so radically different than the world’s and I don’t want to accept those teachings.

It’s not always easy to be a Christian and Catholicism is often called out for the boundaries that it places on human selfishness. But Christians struggling with Christ’s word dates back to the time of Christ Himself. In John 6:60, after Christ reveals the radical and very physical truth of the Eucharist, many disciples say, “This saying is hard; who can accept it?” When the teachings are hard to accept, the results are the same: people either walk away, back to the world, or people hunker down and experience the creative burn of new growth and truth. Christ invites us to intimately join Him and trust Him, to devote our futures and trust in Him even when it seems risky. He invites us to make room in our futures, to make space in our hearts, to exercise the muscles of our faith. Christ’s teachings are rooted in wisdom and self-sacrifice with a foundation that has lasted thousands of years. Christianity’s teachings are considered conservative, they’re truly radical in how different they are from the wisdom of the world, both in the modern world and 2,000 years ago.

However, as Christians, we know we are not alone and walk hand in hand with the apostles and saints that came before us, who also struggled to reconcile their lives and their minds with teachings that are hard to accept. No matter what you struggle with, be it the real presence in the Eucharist, the Church’s stance on homosexuality or contraceptives, we need to take the time to research what challenges us, take the time to digest it, and accept that it may take time to fully accept the teachings and that it may be difficult to live radically by their wisdom. God is not afraid of us and invites us to struggle with Him, to argue with Him, so we truly know what we believe in. Through difficult teachings, God calls us to a deeper understanding and deeper relationship to Him. Don’t be one of the ones who walks away when the going gets rough and join the community that has struggled and yet grown closer to God.

 

 

Soul Candy for Those who are Always Late to the Party

If you have forgotten that it’s still Easter, or even worse, celebrated one day and completely forgot about it, St. John Chrysostom has some encouraging words for you.   

I can completely relate to the struggle to celebrate for fifty days straight.  I’ve heard people describe Lent as a marathon, but for a melancholic like me, it’s almost more difficult remembering to celebrate for fifty days then do penance for forty.  But God calls us to rejoice, whether we wake up every morning hollering “Jesus is risen!” as we throw the covers off or if we slap our foreheads every time we see the white vestments on Sunday, swearing we will keep sacred this feast going into the week, knowing we will most likely forget by the time we head to the doughnut and coffee hand-out station.  

St. John Chrysostom has some consoling words for us late-comers.  In the Church’s Eastern Rite, they read one of his most famous catechetical sermons every Easter.  Meditating on the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matt 20:1-16), it is supposed to be a reminder that whether we’ve held to our Lenten fasts since Ash Wednesday or picked up a random makeshift penance on the back half of the season- even if we just started fasting on Good Friday, we have a reason to celebrate receiving the fullness of God’s mercy in His resurrection.  We’re well into the Easter season, with only a week or so left, which is another perfect time to remind us of God’s perfect mercy despite our imperfect timing:

“If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.” 

There’s enough Easter joy to go around (even five weeks in):

“And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.”

And for the gloomy melancholics like myself, God has created us for the joy of Easter, not for the ridiculously gloomy pit of despair that we inexplicably seem to search out.

“Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen. 

“O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.”

We’re all late to the party, all impoverished in some way, but the Easter season (all FIFTY days) is an extended season of meditation on that very fact as well as the great riches of grace we’ve been given.

Bonus point for those of you who listen to this while meditating on this homily.

I Ran Out of Excuses

I ran out of excuses.  If one were to ask me why I decided to discern my vocation with the Benedictines, in a nutshell that is my answer: I ran out of excuses.  After forty years of life, of serving my country in the United States Marine Corps, of serving the Church as a parish musician for many years, of discerning my vocation for the diocesan priesthood, of teaching children with special needs, of working in the foreign exchange market while teaching English and Spanish as second languages, I, myself, needed what . . . ?  In May of 2008, while looking for an answer, and to “get [the idea of religious life] out of my system,” I was on an extended visit to St. Anselm’s Abbey in Washington, DC where I found myself entering into the prayer life of monks who had been praying in our nation’s capital since 1924.  The daily routine of prayer begins at 5:20 a.m. and is returned to four more times throughout the day.  The monk’s steadily chanted prayer life brought a peace to the depths of my soul – a peace that had long been missing.  Even more than the prayer, the opportunity to be still before the Blessed Sacrament for half an hour each day in anticipation of Vespers gave me a sense of what I had longed for and had missed since leaving the seminary.   But my experience also made me afraid, for my contemplation made me to think about the rich young man who asked Jesus what one must do to gain eternal life.  After Our Lord’s reply, the man said, “I do all that already!  What still is missing?”  Then came the difficult call of Jesus that sent the young man walking away “because he had many possessions.”  

Don’t get me wrong – I knew the call of Jesus is surely a joyful call, one that unites the person all the more to Him.  Everything of value has a cost, however, and the more valuable the item, the higher the cost.  Religious life is neither for wimps nor for the fool-hearty.  This is why it takes years of discernment before one finally makes solemn profession.  Back to the rich young man – I didn’t want to be that guy.  I didn’t want to walk away from Jesus.  I knew in my heart He was calling me to a more disciplined way of seeking and finding Him.  Compared with others, I may not have had many possessions, but still, what I had was mine.  Most of all, I had my freedom to come and go as I pleased, and to pray or not pray whenever I wanted.  In this life before entering the monastery, I had all I needed and some of what I wanted, but I knew something was still missing.  I was longing for a more direct connection to Our Lord.  That is what I was to find in consecrated religious life.  

The excuses I gave to God were many, all beginning with the question, “yes, but what about . . . ?”  “Let me worry about that” was His reply.  “If you are seeking Me, let that go.”  Again and again, with one objection after the other came the same reply.  “Let me worry about that.  If you are seeking Me, let that go.”  Oh how easy it was to hold onto the things of this world and not of this world – things that brought me security and uncertainty, happiness and dejection, joy and frustration, contentment and emptiness.  But above all was an intangible longing for something more.  The monastic life, I have learned, has all that and much more as well.  There is security in the structured way we live, but also uncertainty about the monastery’s future.  I get to do what I love by teaching in the Abbey School, and yes, there can be much frustration living in such close proximity with my brothers (who by the way, continue to put up with me!).  And although there is a genuine happiness in the monastery, at times here, too, there is an emptiness – when the sea of Our Lord’s grace leaves me at “low tide” and all is exposed.   But then the tide returns and I am no longer at the water’s edge, but am now submerged in a merciful and grace-filled ocean where nothing matters but Him.

No longer do I have to wonder what God wants from me – I am living it daily, and sometimes failing miserably at it, but I am nonetheless supported by His merciful love and grace.  I now have the fraternity and acceptance of others who have answered a similar call by God to seek and encounter Him in the consecrated religious life.  Monastic life continues to provide a deep peace in the depths of my soul – a peace that “surpasses all understanding,” and that grows deeper as each day passes.

Why am I writing all this to you?  To share a bit of the joy I have come to experience by deciding to at last stay with Jesus, and not to walk away from Him.  No more excuses.  By submitting my will to His through the vowed religious life, I am able to see how my monastic vocation is His gift, for which I daily say, “thank you.”  To be able to do so sincerely makes all the difference.  

Please pray for all who have been called to this life, and for those whom Our Lord is calling even now.  By your prayers, please help us to hear Our Lord’s voice that trumps all excuses.  Help us hear Him when he says, “let Me worry about that; if you are seeking Me, let that go.”

Fostering Good Growth

Meals at Andy’s are not meant to be relaxing in the sense that guests sit and wait for their food to be ready. Instead, they are assigned portions of the meal that they will contribute upon arrival: appetizers, salad, drinks, main course or dessert. This is not asking too much when there are eggs, herbs, vegetables, fruits and honey readily available. Before long, the back yard is buzzing with activity.

Eating dinner at Andy’s is a treat that I rate higher than getting invited out for supper anywhere else (which I love).  I have had this privilege exactly two times and I will tell you why you want to be on this invite list. You see, rather than landscaping with shrubs and bushes, Andy’s is landscaped with vegetables and herbs. Instead of entering through the front door, guests head directly into the backyard garden where the table and outdoor kitchen is located. The table is large and surrounded with a brick oven, a grill, climbing vines and twinkle lights.

It’s helpful to know a good ‘vine grower’ for a lot of reasons.

Even if horticulture isn’t your thing—it’s hard to get around it at this point in the year. Ads blast on the radio, Home Depot is packed and everyone from restaurateurs to brew houses boast their ‘locally grown’ menus. You may even hope to have a green,  patio view of this novelty in the midst of the city scape.

Isn’t it great when those who have a gift for growing step up so that the rest of us can enjoy the fruits of their labor? They can simultaneously make a place more beautiful and feed people. What a gift!

There is a fantastic collection of names for God in our lectionary. Vine Grower is among my favorites. I will admit that when the readings (like today’s reading) turn toward gardening metaphors, I look to the gardening gurus in my life that illustrate some of the finer points of fostering good growth like a good Vine Grower might do. I notice a few things that great gardeners seem to have in common:

1.     Vine Growers tend diligently: whether by weeding, watering or fertilizing--A good gardener is never far from their crop.

2.     Vine Growers prune extensively: As difficult as it can be to see a beautiful rose bush hacked down to nubs, doing so allows for the plant to flourish more abundantly.

3.     Vine Growers apply compost: Nothing is wasted-- no banana peel, watermelon rind or coffee grounds are tossed aside without purpose. Each provides essential nutrients for the benefit of the entire garden.

4.     Vine Growers nourish those around them, particularly by feeding them.

Maybe it’s easier to think about our own experiences of growth from this vantage point.  I need that reminder that the Vine Grower is never far from me. I know how uncomfortable it is to be pruned, yet in so doing, I am encouraged—even expected to grow more vibrantly, and I am nourished by the very things I might have imagined to be trash, used-up or spent.

Because of these things—not in spite of them-- I can hope to bear fruit; perhaps even to feed those around me (green thumb or not).

 

With a Burning Heart

Every Easter season, I’m struck with the story of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus in chapter 24 of Luke. Perhaps it’s because I relate to the two disciples in question, who begin the story with heavy hearts. Unbeknownst to them, they encounter Jesus, because “their eyes were prevented from recognizing him” (Luke 24:16).  They tell Jesus of the mysterious events of the crucifixion and their discovery of the empty tomb.  Christ then explains the Scripture to them and reveals Himself in the breaking of the bread. The disciples finally recognize Him and their response to this revelation is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “Were not our hearts burning within us while he spoke to us on the way and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

Many times in my life, I’ve gone through dark periods  – the infamous dark valley of Psalm 23. Like the disciples, I enter a mixed period of doubt, hope and wonder when life doesn’t go the way I planned, or I encounter an unexpected setback. During these periods, I wonder at the presence of Christ in my life and question His will. I know that I’m traveling to a new destination, but I feel uncertain, perplexed and sometimes sad and lost. And then, oftentimes without realizing it, I encounter Christ along the way.

In a similar way the disciples could not recognize Jesus, Christ enters my life and moves me in ways that I don’t immediately recognize. I’m blinded by past suffering and errors and afraid to hope for what’s to come. Suddenly, everything falls into place. My eyes are opened and I suddenly see God’s plan for me.  Christ’s presence in my life raises my spirit and gives me new hope. And again and again I recognize the burning in my heart that comes with the truth and love of Christ. Only the Lord can make my heart burn in such a way, as I renew my Baptismal vows every Easter season. The disciples encountered the Lord on the road and God in the dark valley guided the shepherd. In such a way, the Lord has led me through a dark valley and I celebrate his resurrection with my family. He has met me on the road.

The tale of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus reminds me that Christ pulls through in his promises.  He invites me to renew myself with his resurrection.  Sometimes I don’t recognize the way the Lord moves me in my life, but I just have to trust that He will guide me. He challenges me to reacquaint myself with His word and fall back in love with Him.  They say that hindsight is 20/20 and, at least for me, that’s very true. In retrospect, when I consider moments in my life when I felt lost or needed extra guidance, I realize that I became stronger and was on my way to a new beginning. When I doubt the Lord’s presence in my life, I must remember to be extra vigilant to an encounter with Christ along the way.  No matter how long the road – or the dark valley – Christ will lead me to my destination.